GAO: Data center savings underreported by billions

Despite meeting savings goals from consolidation, DOD and other agencies have had trouble in measuring and reporting the full amount saved.

While many of the government agencies participating in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative have reported cost savings, better reporting could reveal billions of dollar more saved, according to Government Accountability Office report.

The GAO report, released yesterday, found that many of the agencies closing down data centers were encountering difficulties in reporting savings for the initiative.

Created in 2010, the FDCCI is designed to reverse the growth of government data centers and to reduce the costs of hardware, software and operations. Twenty-four agencies—the Defense Department included—are expected to have saved about $3.3 billion dollars through FDCCI by fiscal 2015, surpassing the Office of Management and Budget’s original goal of $3 billion. A total savings of $5.3 billion is planned by fiscal 2017.

DOD alone has closed 374 data centers as of May 2014, and is planning on a total cost savings of about $1.1 billion for fiscal 2011 to 2017. DOD’s savings are primarily from virtualization efforts and the decommissioning of redundant centers.

Despite the cost savings, GAO found that many of the agencies were underreporting savings. For example, six agencies that closed up to 67 data centers reported limited or no savings, GAO said, at least in part because they had trouble calculating their baseline costs. Nearly half of the agencies with planned cost savings are underreporting their fiscal 2012 to 2015 figures by nearly $2.2 billion, according to the report.

One challenge is that some of the agencies are unable to calculate their savings because of complex organizational structures and distributed centers across various regions, GAO found. Other agencies have stated that they lack the data required to do those calculations or have yet to develop baseline costs to compare savings.

For instance, the Defense Data Center Consolidation Lead has told GAO that getting DOD components to report all of their data remains difficult. Single-server data centers such as small research stations and computers remain largely unreported.

DOD was specifically asked to complete an action plan for addressing problems in reporting cost savings after submitting revised figures, which was completed prior to the publishing of the final report. The GAO had also found that DOD had not fully reported 2012 to 2015 cost savings to OMB and has recommended that DOD do so.

The GAO in general is recommending that OMB help the individual agencies develop new metrics and techniques to report cost savings and server utilization. Meanwhile, GAO is pushing DOD and other agencies to fully report their consolidated cost savings to OMB.

Meanwhile, DOD components have continued to shut down data centers throughout 2014. In July, the Defense Information Systems Agency closed another Defense Enterprise Computing Center, and has brought down the number of those centers from 18 to 10. Services like the Army have also begun moving enterprise applications to core data centers, having closed 165 data centers since 2011.